Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Release Date: 09/06/2019
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Gears of War has always held a special place in my heart as it was the first game to introduce me to “next-generation” graphics. You know, shaders, real-time lighting, high-resolution textures, ambient occlusion, all that jazz. It was the first Xbox 360 game I ever played and I will never forget the first time playing through that game. It’s still one of the best shooters ever made and nothing will change that. After Gears of War 4, my hopes for the series died a bit as it had a mediocre campaign and average multiplayer. Gears 5, however, takes the series a step further by adding open-world elements and a rock-solid campaign.
I didn’t mind the new additions to Gears 4 they were just not implemented well enough. The new weapons were lackluster, the older weapons didn’t pack the punch they used to before, and the level design was bland and stale. I got tired of playing in the same areas throughout the whole game and the entire base building or defense gameplay was just boring to me. Gears 5 strips the base defense gameplay and tunes everything up several notches and makes what was introduced in Gears 4 really good now. The weapons pack a serious punch, the game is more challenging, the waves of enemies are more balanced and the entire ebb and flow of the game are like the older ones. I was glued to the game through the entire campaign and didn’t want to stop. Gone are the boring Deebee robots (they’re back as Swarm now but only sparsely), and a larger variety of Locust Swarm.
Gears 5 starts out like any other Gears game with story elements, it picks up right where Gears 4 left off, and a linear bombastic level full of scripted events. This is where you get to learn about Jack who is actually a usable partner now with various abilities that you can upgrade. Things like cloaking, shield, armor, he can zap people, and various other abilities. Upgrades are found throughout the game and I only found a few of Jack’s abilities useful, mainly the armor and shield. Cloaking is useless as the game tries to force stealth for the first time and it just does not work at all. Sneaking around knifing Locust is fine and all but their patrol patterns are poorly laid out and it almost seems random. Never do all the patrols perfectly line up for multiple stealth takedowns. This leads to the horrific AI in both the enemies and partners. When you’re down but not out it can take forever to be revived even if someone is right next to you. I died several times because an AI couldn’t figure out how to climb a ladder as well. Enemy AI will also sometimes get stuck behind walls or just freeze up all together causing objectives to not clear and having to hunt down where someone got stuck.
It’s not all bad though as stealth sections only popped up a few times and AI rarely messed up, but when it did it was the most inconvenient time. Thankfully the new open-world idea works well, but it’s not what you think. You drive a wind-powered Skiff sled that pulls you around on two separate “open” maps. These maps are just a huge excuse to get upgrades for Jack. Outside of going back and forth to main objectives you can stop by and locate 1 out of 3 of something for Jack. These are just various enemy arenas and don’t take long to complete. They’re fun as they vary and are challenging, but unnecessary. It’s just an excuse to extend game time. I also don’t understand the complaint about needing to fast travel between areas. Riding the Skiff is actually fun and there are some scripted sequences that take place out here between main missions. The maps are not that big and the two environments are snow and desert. They’re fun, but I wouldn’t miss them if they disappeared in the next game.
That leaves just the campaign itself with well-paced gameplay throughout and there never was a dull moment. Enemies are better spaced out and the addition of armored enemies adds to the challenge as well as Scions and Wardens which are the big baddie additions of Locust similar to the larger enemies from the Swarm we got in Gears 4. There are plenty of scripted events and sadly the story doesn’t really evolve during these open-world scenes as the game is sandwiched between two large traditionally linear chapters and these are more enjoyable than the middle of the game. The story ends on a cliffhanger again and there are just a few more answers that are given in the traditional Gears way.
That finally leaves multiplayer which is bigger and better than ever. With the original modes tweaked and fine-tuned such as Horde and Versus, the new Escape mode sees you escaping from the center of a Swarm nest with two other partners and it’s incredibly hard. You start out with a Snub and must fight through waves as you make your way out. It feels more like a reverse Horde mode. In Horde mode, you also play a base defense game like in Gears 4 but Engineers play larger roles than before. It’s all been tweaked and I liked it for a while, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of Gears multiplayer. That’s part of why I’m not going super in-depth into it. There are more customization features than ever before with skins and characters and of course microtransactions, but it’s all cosmetic. You also get ability cards and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really care for.
The game looks fantastic and much better than Gears 4 did. The character models are amazing, fantastic animations and voice acting, and everything just looks so great and it runs well…well at least it did after the first patch. I had constant stuttering and audio glitches for about a week, but it seems fine now. The game is well optimized for PCs with tons of graphics options and support for ultrawide screens. The game can run on a vast variety of older hardware which is also a plus.
Overall, Gears 5 is what Gears of War 4 should have been. Fantastically balanced gameplay, well-paced, and an open-world concept that seems to be done just right and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The enemies are fun, the new tweaks and additions are a blast, and multiplayer is larger than ever. I just wish they would concentrate on more core Gears gameplay and level design and story rather than trying bold new ideas. This isn’t the series that really needs that.